High school students lead national uprising for gun control
Anna Hurley, 15, of Washington, top, and other demonstrators participate in a “lie-in” during a protest in favor of gun control reform in front of the White House, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in Washington. | Evan Vucci/AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (PAI)—Hundreds of upset and determined students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., headed for the state capitol in faraway Tallahassee to demand Florida politicians curb access to guns.

And, pretty soon, other organizers hope, the rest of the country will join them in that national gun control cause.

With the encouragement of the nation’s two teachers unions, plus the organizers of the Women’s March, students, parents, and teachers plan a 17-minute mass walkout from schools all over the country at 10 am on March 14. And the Douglas High students are organizing a March 24 “March for our Lives” on Washington.

Whether the politicians, in either Florida – home to lax gun laws which pro-gun groups cite as models for the rest of the U.S. – or D.C. listen to them, is another matter. Congress is notoriously in thrall to the enormously powerful and vitriolic gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.

But the students are already being heard, in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre of 14 students, two teachers and the athletic director at Douglas. The teachers died saving dozens of other students.

Jaclyn Corin, a 17-year-old Douglas student, wangled a meeting with Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott on Feb. 22. She’s going to give Scott, a right-winger running for the U.S. Senate, a piece of her mind, news reports say. The busloads of students started for Tallahassee on Feb. 20. Other students and parental allies plan to descend on GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s Miami-area “town hall” meeting on Feb. 21.

And 17 D.C.-area high school students -– each one symbolizing a Douglas victim — quickly mobilized by social media, laid down in front of the White House on Feb. 21 to protest the mass shooting in Parkland and political complicity in it. Two days before, hundreds of people protested the NRA’s encouragement of weaponry, descending on the lobby’s headquarters in suburban Virginia.

The students descending on Tallahassee had a tough message for Scott and the heavily Republican state legislature. Emma Gonzalez, a leader among the survivors, says: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

They want a ban on the sale of assault weapons, such as the AR-15 the gunman used at their school. And that’s for starters.

“Those students are going to roar. You are going to hear those kids roar. They are so angry and so upset and so devastated, that their classmates and friends and teachers were gunned down,” parent Cathi Rush told The Guardian. Her kids survived, but the trauma hit her, captured in a nationwide picture.

“Children need to be valued more than guns,” says Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, a New York City middle school teacher, who spent the days after Feb. 14 down in Florida, consoling teachers, leaving flowers, attending funerals and crying. The murdered Douglas teachers were AFT members.

The Douglas massacre is the eighth at a school in the last 19 years, starting with the April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. The worst were at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., (20 elementary school students, six teachers) and Douglas. Another 15 Douglas students were wounded, two critically.

Besides Columbine, Connecticut, and Florida, the other mass murders in schools were at the Red Lake reservation in Minnesota, an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, at Virginia Tech, at Chardon, Ohio, High School, at Ofkos University in Oakland, Calif., and at a community college in Roseburg, Ore.

And that doesn’t count the near-misses, such as last September in Mattoon, Ill., where a brave woman teacher charged the shooter and deflected his arm and his bullets upwards, saving everyone in the high school cafeteria.

It also doesn’t count the individual shootings in schools. Weingarten says there have been 238 such shootings in schools just since Sandy Hook. That includes the murders in Roseburg.

“Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school,” Women’s March organizers said in announcing the walkout. “Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day.”

The women’s march adopted Weingarten’s question, “When is enough enough?” as their demand.

Some of the students are extending their ire to NRA and politicians who take its campaign contributions. One big taker: Republican President Donald Trump, whose 2016 drive garnered $30 million. He spoke glowingly about gun rights at last year’s NRA convention in Atlanta.

Asked on CNN what she would say to the gun lobby, Douglas High student Gonzalez had a succinct reply: “Disband. And don’t come back under another name.”

Politicians who take NRA’s blood money are “getting their funding from killers.” Added student David Hogg, who heads the student news media program at Douglas: “If you can’t get elected without taking money from child murderers, you shouldn’t be running.”

Surviving student Alex Wind told Meet the Press they’ll be marching on D.C. not just because of the school massacres, but to demand justice – and strict gun controls – as a memorial to all those killed in mass murders, from Columbine, to the gay night club in Orlando, to the country and western concert in Las Vegas.

“This kind of stuff can’t just happen. You know, we are marching for our lives, we’re marching for the 17 lives we lost. And we’re marching for our children’s lives and our children’s children and their children,” he said.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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